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Australia's attorney general accused of rape, denies allegations

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Australian Attorney General Christian Porter is denying allegations he raped a 16-year-old girl some 33 years ago. Police have said they're dropping the case because of insufficient evidence. CBS News foreign correspondent Holly Williams joined CBSN with details on the allegations and how lawmakers and the public are responding.

Video Transcript

- Australia's Attorney General denies allegations he raped a 16-year-old some 33 years ago. The allegations against Christian Porter became public last week after a letter was sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Police say there is insufficient evidence to proceed with a criminal investigation and dropped the case after the accuser took her own life last year.

Porter says he will not resign as the nation's top law officer, however, he did announce plans to take a couple of weeks leave for his mental health. Joining me now to talk more about this is CBS News Foreign Correspondent Holly Williams. Hi, Holly. Great to see you. So, as we mentioned, police say there is insufficient evidence for an investigation. What exactly are the allegations here, and how did they surface?

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Well, these allegations have sent shock waves through Australian politics, as you can imagine. They have been made against the chief law officer of the nation, the Attorney General Christian Porter. As you said, they date back to 1988, when he was himself a teenager. He has been accused of raping a 16-year-old, who as you just pointed out, came forward.

There was a police investigation, but she then took her own life last year. And so that investigation ended. The Attorney General denies the allegations, but after her death, these accusations were passed on to several senior politicians by a group of her friends, and they eventually made their way to the media.

I should say that this is part of a much bigger, festering wound that has opened up in Australian politics, and particularly within the Liberal Party, which is on the right wing of Australian politics. Late last year, there was a television report that documented allegations of widespread sexism and misogyny within the Liberal Party. There were accusations that the Attorney General Christian Porter had behaved and spoken in a misogynistic manner.

Following that, a young Liberal Party staffer came forward and claimed that she had been raped by a more senior staffer inside Parliament house, and there were allegations that the Liberal Party had attempted to cover that up. So really what I think is happening here is that the Liberal Party, and perhaps Australian society more generally, is being forced to confront the way that it treats women, and its attitudes towards women.

- And looking back to this more specific case, how is Christian Porter responding to the accusations against him, and does he still maintain support from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other Australian lawmakers?

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Until today, officially, all we knew was that this allegation had been made against a cabinet minister. However, there were widespread rumors on the internet that the person who was being accused of rape was the Attorney General Christian Porter. And clearly, behind the scenes, he was under enormous pressure to come forward and essentially out himself as the alleged rapist.

He held a press conference today. He did that. He outed himself. He denied the allegations. He was extremely emotional at times during the press conference. He appeared to be fighting back tears, but he said that he would not resign.

What he did say, as you pointed out, is that he would take a couple of weeks leave to deal with mental health issues. At this point, he seems to still have the support of the Prime Minister Scott Morrison. How long that will be a tenable position, is a very big question.

- And so, what happens next both with this particular case? As you mentioned, there's a lot of unknowns. But just sort of in the larger context of what Australia seems to be grappling with, it's sort of a #MeToo movement in its own way.

What are Australian women saying about all of this, in general obviously, we can't generalize for the entire gender there-- but what are journalists and reporters who are covering this from the angle of what women have experienced in that country saying?

HOLLY WILLIAMS: Right, so the police ended their investigation when the alleged victim committed suicide. Now, there is enormous pressure on the government, and specifically on the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, to announce an independent investigation into these allegations against Christian Porter.

There's a lot of pressure on the Prime Minister, not just to deal with this allegation, but to deal more broadly with these accusations that there was a problem within his own party, the Liberal Party of sexism and misogyny. And, in fact, a recent poll found that 2/3 of Australians believe the government is more interested in protecting itself than protecting women.

- Very interesting. Holly Williams, thank you so much for joining us, and keeping us up to date on this, we appreciate it.